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Easter Weekend 2017

Chocolate Benefits, Risks and Health Tips this Easter

Easter Weekend 2017 is almost upon us! An occasion which will mean a range of things depending on who you ask.

For many the focus will be upon celebrating the religious aspects, namely the resurrection of Jesus in Christianity and the end of lent; ‘Easter’ isn’t a specifically biblical term but its informal adoption is thought to have arisen from a mistake in the King James iteration of the bible, mistranslated from the Greek word for ‘Passover’.

Go further back and you’ll find pagan roots too; the word ‘Easter’ itself being thought to originate from the Saxons and the goddess of spring Eastra. Go back even further and you’ll find connections to the Sumerian legend of Tammuz and Ishtar. Elsewhere, for the Jewish faith this coincides with celebration of Passover and commemorates the end of their slavery in Egypt.

All the above only takes a handful of the origins into account, so all told it’s a complicated mythology drawing a great deal of disagreement between historians and theorists.

What most of us can agree on at least is that it’s a great time to enjoy some chocolate! So, without further ado here’s the SHEilds’ rundown of chocolate benefits, risks and health tips!

Overindulging in Chocolate at Easter

Chocolate eggs and other sweets have evolved into a commonplace staple of contemporary Easter. This is a great excuse to exchange gifts or treat children, however the risk of overindulging in chocolate shouldn’t be ignored.

Health Benefits

Rather than getting straight into the negatives it seems worth highlighting the positive attributes of chocolate first, considering the potential health benefits.

The compound cocoa flavanols which are found mainly in cocoa powder and dark chocolate can improve circulation and heart health generally, reducing cholesterol and the chance of suffering cardiovascular disease. It’s also recently been proven to help in restoring flexibility to our arteries, preventing arterial clogging due to white blood vessels becoming stuck.

Our brains benefit too, with research showing dark chocolate to reduce the chances of suffering a stroke, memory loss in late life while lowering inflammation often tied to serious head trauma. Contrary to popular belief, in moderation cocoa has even been shown to help in the prevention of diabetes with correlation to improved insulin sensitivity.

The correlation between the sharing of chocolates and romance is no accident either; it contains phenylethylamine (or PEA), the chemical produced by your brain which creates the endorphins commonly associated with the sensation of falling in love!

Health Risks

Unfortunately, all the previous benefits come with a big disclaimer; most of these positive effects are exclusive to dark chocolate high in flavonoids.

The more commonly mass produced variety of milk chocolate does contain flavonoids, but lacks the typical benefits thanks to a reduction in cocoa solids. In their place, there is a great deal more sugar – usually double – and milk instead while white chocolate is completely devoid of cocoa solids, flavonoids or any other positive effects.

Regardless, all chocolate including the dark variety will contain a sizable amount of sugar and saturated fats, so while it may be good for us in small amounts in some cases excessive consumption will still lead to weight gain and a variety of heart risks.

As such, benefits are only worth considering when weighed up against these health risks to assess the net effect.

Enjoying in Moderation

It may seem like a tired trope, but enjoying in moderation really is a sound rule to stand by for your Easter Eggs. Enforcing a few basic restrictions for yourself and particularly young children – who will likely gorge themselves unchecked – ensures the weekend stays fun, everyone enjoys their chocolate and no one ends the day feeling queasy.

For starters, limiting consumption of chocolate to a single sitting per day is a solid start. If you’re surrounded by a sizable haul of Easter Eggs, sweets and other goodies there will likely be the temptation to continually dip in throughout the day; the risk here being that it’s difficult to keep track of how much chocolate is actually being eaten.

Along these lines, it’s worth remembering that chocolate tends to keep for a while, there’s no reason to rush through your Easter stockpile over the weekend! Take your time and save some for next weekend, racing through is unnecessary and inadvisable.

If you’re the parent or friend buying Easter goodies you can also help ease the burden of creating an insurmountable supply by adjusting your buyer’s instinct. Instead of aiming to purchase an abundance of cheap chocolate why not spend the same amount on less, but with a higher, more healthy quality?

Break up the Easter Weekend   

Rather than just sitting around breaking up chocolate over Easter why not break up the weekend with some fun activities?

An Easter egg hunt is a good start, providing fun away from eating chocolate and getting everyone active; try make your hiding places especially creative – though crucially safe – to set up a real challenge for family and friends and remember that not all eggs need to be chocolate. A few colourful prop Easter Eggs interspersed with the real thing shouldn’t diminish enjoyment but will allow you to cut down on chocolate themed excess!

Easter themed arts, crafts and games are another good way to enrich your day and keep things from getting stale; children and adults can have a great time collaborating on making DIY bonnets, bunnies and decorations for the occasion.

Easter Chocolate Alternatives

Either for health, dietary of preferential reasons chocolate won’t necessarily be to everyone’s liking over Easter. This doesn’t mean anyone should miss out though as there are plenty of chocolate alternatives available to mix things up!

Vegans and the dairy intolerant may find regular Easter Eggs are off the menu; fortunately there are vegan alternatives available free from dairy produce that still taste delicious. There are soya/gluten free options too, sugar free specialities for diabetics and even eggs filled with nuts and dried fruit if you want a generally healthier route.

Indeed, why not break with choc-tradition completely and create a delicious feast of vegetables, salads and fruits to create a truly guilt free treat?

Have Fun

When all is said and done, whatever your take on the Easter holiday it’s a great time to have fun with family and friends. With a little moderation and care there’s no reason you can’t have a great chocolate themed weekend, minus eater’s guilt the following week.

Whatever your plans, SHEilds wishes you all a very Happy Easter!

Owen Roach